Today, I Speak the Names of…

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Self-Portrait.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. Self-Portrait.

Today I speak the names of PROFESSIONAL BLACK HISTORIANS (and I do not include amateur “chroniclers of facts” today, this February 28th).  This day is for those individuals who stand, teach, and write only after they have performed extensive study and research.

This day is for those women and men who sit, anywhere from thirty to forty hours a week, wrapped in sweaters in those cold archives going over bits and pieces of paper that contain information until they begin to see a particular pattern or story to that information.  Then they raise the “why” and the “how” questions about that information and they begin to piece together a story.  Then they develop an analysis because history is not and never has been the regurgitation of names and dates and events.  It is not a chronicle of events.  History is the analysis of why and how things happen AND if there is no argument, it is not history! (Thanks for that one, Dr. Glenn T. Eskew.  Okay, so Eskew is not Black, but he is one of the good ones who recognize the seriousness with which we all must advance and promote our profession.)

So on this day, February 28, 2014, the last day of so-called Black History Month (as if every day is not a part of Black History), I salute my classmates, colleagues, and former professors who work like slaves and dogs for very little money.  There are days when you—and you alone—have been the only reason I can get up in the morning and keep moving.

I urge all of you, my colleagues, to remember your worth.  If people need your stories and your opinions and your analyses, then those people can actually do something revolutionary and actually respect your worth and pay you like the professionals you are.  Yet, if they do not want to pay you or acknowledge you, then they can take their lazy a***** to the dozens of libraries and repositories that you have visited.  They can devote the same countless, and thankless months and years of research, research that you have perpetually performed as a matter of professional necessity, routine and courtesy.  They can then experience how much they like doing years of your work without so much as a dollar or a “Thank You.”  Do not settle my friends.  Àṣé, and keep moving.

 

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.

The Change Agents: A Thought for February

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Self-Portrait.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. Self-Portrait.

Several months ago I heard Black British film director Steve McQueen (not the now-deceased White actor), say that art did not change anything.  I clutched my chest as if I was surely having a massive heart attack at what must be blasphemy.  Later, I figured out what McQueen meant.  Art alters and suspends that space in your head where your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is located, and then YOU might be able to change yourself or your situation or your mind.  Art is the match or spark, which lights the fire in the potential change agent—YOU!

Now, history has taught us that my brothers and sisters, Black Americans, have, at least since the early twentieth century worked diligently to create art—paintings and sculpture, music and dance, or theatre—that they imbued with the herculean task of changing the way the rest of the world looks at us, and how we look at ourselves.  Too often, the belief is that an artistic representation of us, once seen or experienced, will alter the way others think of us.  This is why so many of my brothers and sisters can hyperventilate until they burst into a sweat (or burst a blood vessel) about a film or television characterization of us that is a pathetic and insulting stereotype or caricature of us that strays far from the truth. Typically, what happens next is a mad search for the most exceptional among us.

This February, 2014, I have been guilty of what WE historians call “chronicling.”  Chronicling is posting basic information about a person or event, often in date order, which we think, or believe to be of “historical significance,” whatever that means.  For Black folks, Black History Month reeks of an unsavory type of history that I, and others, also call “Great Man/Great Woman” history, or “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman” history.  I call it unsavory because it never really satisfies—It is the history of our people whom we see (or have been taught to see), as exceptional, or the exception to the rule.  I am also as guilty of it as anybody else.  Yet, this month, February 2014, in many of my Facebook and Twitter posts, I deliberately focused on Black people that have contributed to or participated in theatre.  I did not do this to simply cast a light on Black folks in the theatre that I think everyone should know about.  It was also designed to cast a light on Black theatre itself, something Black folks, those who were theatre professionals and those who were not, used to participate in on a regular basis as a matter of ritual, as a matter of teaching and learning, as a matter of lifting the spirit.

It did not matter whether the person(s) had talent or not, theatre was what WE did for each other and for ourselves.  In the early days of the twentieth century, theatre had not yet become the rather parochial profession as some folks think of it today, but rather it remained an essential exercise in the communal rituals we always participated in as a people.  After all, nobody said you needed talent to recite an Easter Speech or to memorize and recite a poem, did they?  Mama, Daddy, Grandma and Grandpa all thought you “did good” up there on that stage even if you would never, ever be able to act or sing your way out of a jar, to say nothing of survive an audition.  I say all of this to make a few simple points…

Take one moment and forget about “Great Man/Great Woman History.”  Forget about “Unsung Man/Unsung Woman History,” and begin to look at your mothers, fathers, grandparents and others who belong to so many generations before you as the “multi-talented,” “multi-hat-wearing,” “multi-title-holding,” “multi-I’m-going-to-get-this-done-if-it-kills-me” people that they were.  When you do this, you will begin to measure greatness not by accolades and plaques, but by how well something they did served them, saved them and you, and whether it is or is not possible for you to emulate them.  Then you will find out everything you ever needed to know that never went into a History Book or on the cover of a magazine or in a documentary about our/your people.  You will then find that match or spark that ignites you—the change agent!  Ashé!

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.

Artistic and Intellectual Dangers: Two Scenarios

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Scenario One:

Although it now seems ages ago, I remember one of my former classmates told me something quite revelatory shortly before my graduation from Agnes Scott College.  She told me that when my classes were over, and I had turned in that last paper, I was going to make a discovery:  I would discover my reading and analysis addiction.  I laughed.  After all, I thought, we both were older when we returned to school to complete our college degrees.  Were we not naturally immune to the kind of excesses that affected much younger women?  Agnes Scott’s student body was and still is well over a fourth non-traditional age students, meaning students over the age of 25.

The benefit of attending school with students of various ages was that we all learned something from each other.  I was a History major and every semester I was usually assigned anywhere from 18 to 22 books to read in semesters that were usually no longer than 15 or 16 weeks.  When my classmate (who graduated before me) told me that after graduation she would get up at 6:00 AM just to go out to fetch the morning newspaper to read, I was certain she was telling one of her funny stories.  I was wrong!

After I turned in my final paper for the Senior History Colloquium, I lounged around for a couple of days and then it started: the hunt for reading material.  Now, I already owned over a thousand books.  I suddenly found myself opening books and re-reading chapters of books I had read years ago; then magazines, scholarly journals, and the TV guide.  I read a couple of stage plays, including the stage directions.  Was it possible for me to just stop reading and just let my brain relax for a moment?  Was it possible for me to pause and not do what I was trained to do?  Yet, if I did read something, could I read it just for pleasure?

Like most “Scotties,” my classmate gave me some good advice.  She said we all know that most people need to read more.  We tell our children to read books; and there is a genuine crisis in how little some people read.  Yet, she said, anything you cannot turn off for a while is controlling you, not the other way around.  Reading is absolutely necessary and essential to any good education.  Yet, when you have to struggle to allow yourself to take a break, there is a problem.  Reading and deep analysis must always be self-directed.  Deep analysis can become ineffective once it becomes an involuntary reflex.

Scenario Two:

On a few occasions, I have attended stage plays with actors.  Most of these actors I love to death.  We have sat in the audience making small talk before the show began and then WHAM!  Less than two minutes into the production, the same actors that I love were analyzing every thing:  “I wonder why the set designer placed that chair over there?”  “How did the stylist get that woman’s hair to look like that?”  After the play was over, the analysis really kicked into high gear:  “I thought that this character should have entered from the left instead of the right.”  “It was a great play, but I would have placed the intermission in a different place.”  “Why was that odd sculpture on the table in the corner?”  Soon I was thinking to myself, “Why, oh why, did I not just come to see this play by myself?”

Now, to be fair, all actors, playwrights, directors, and etcetera have to analyze plays like this.  If they do not do this, they risk overlooking important details that might compromise the integrity of their future performances and productions.  It is an exercise in understanding what works on a stage and what does not work on a stage.  They cannot take anything for granted: the lighting, the set, costumes, particular moments in the script that they believe need to grab the audience’s attention.  Yet, there is a problem when the criticisms and evaluations seem to run on automatic pilot.  There is also a problem in not being able to simply sit in an audience and just enjoy the show.

So why are these two scenarios a bit dangerous?  After all, there is every reason to complain about the lack of intellectual and artistic stimulation in society as a whole.  Most of us with any degree of brains knows that putting a book in a child’s hands or taking them to see a play or to a concert is far better than giving them $200 sneakers and video games.  Most of us have witnessed the performance that pandered to the audience for cheap laughs or sank into a ridiculous melodrama designed to do nothing more than make people weep.  We have all read the book or essay that seemed written purely for titillation.  We do not need any of that.  Yet…

The danger in never being able to simply watch a performance just for sheer enjoyment is dangerously close to losing the joy of viewing performance art altogether.  The danger in not being able to momentarily, put the book down or not being able to stop analyzing everything is also very close to becoming entirely disconnected from the very people you wish to reach and teach.  When you watch what they watch or read what they read, do you do so through their eyes and ears?  How can you know what the people expect or need to know or want to know or want to experience or need to experience unless you occasionally JOIN THEM?

So, take a moment and just chill.  Every once and awhile, when you read, simply drink in whatever you are reading, and leave your criticisms, questions, and analysis for some later time.  If you are watching a play or listening to a piece of music, just watch, just listen, just enjoy.  Pause and try to recall when everything that you know now (or think you know now) was once perfectly fresh and new to you.  Take that occasional moment to deliberately NOT review, but to renew.  Then, get back to work!

Peace.

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Robocall Revenge!

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

After listening to nearly 100 robocalls over the past three weeks emanating from an assortment of imbeciles who have no better sense than to believe that they are fit to run for public office in my hometown of Atlanta, I had my own “Have-A-Laugh-Friday” on one of my social media pages.  Just one of the things I do occasionally to break the tension.  Now, this does not mean that I will be posting or blogging something funny every Friday, or that I or anyone else needs to wait for Friday to laugh.  And this is also not done to harm the good reputations of the many wonderful members of the City Council who love Atlanta and do really great work—people like Ceasar Mitchell and Keisha Lance Bottoms who are accessible the whole year, have a great staff that responds to you (and not just at election time.)

Now, this is not a political endorsement.  I do not publicly endorse political candidates.  My mention of those two people is my personal observation of them over several years.  Vote for the candidate that best represents your interests, but I am rambling.  Back to the matter at hand—these insufferable robocalls.

For the past three weeks every time I got ready to raise my fork to my mouth, the phone rang.  Typically, I did not recognize the number on the Caller ID, so I let it go to voicemail.  Then before I could swallow my food, I would see the light blinking on my telephone that indicated that I had a message.  I would ignore these blinking lights save for the fact that it might be important.  I also had little choice but to turn off the ringers on all of my telephones, that is if I planned to eat or get any work done.  Now, when I listened to these messages, they all tended to sound something like this:

“Hello, I am ______________________, and I am a father with two children.  I am running for the school board because our children are our future.”

Or

“Hello, I am ________________________, and I am supporting _____________________ , for Atlanta City Council.  Atlanta can do better than the current….”

You are damn right Atlanta can do better which is why I have to seriously consider whether or not I am voting for you or for any candidate that believes that a barrage of phone calls is going to earn any potential voter’s trust, to say nothing of their vote.  Exactly who told these candidates that a torrent of pre-recorded robocalls that always occur around meals or when I am writing or doing research would send me or anyone else to the polls?

I do not think these political candidates are that out of touch—I do think some of them are dumb, dumb as cat s**t, dumb as a stump, dumb as a box of rocks, and as vacant as a white wall.  Some of them probably qualify as doofus—Go look up “doofus.”  It is now in the dictionary, and I am sure at least a few of these candidates have helped the authorities at Merriam-Webster refine its definition.

Now I could not ever imagine not voting.  Too many of my people fought and died for me to have that privilege.  I have to say that when I do go to vote on November 5, I really wish the voting machine had an option to write-in candidates whose names ARE NOT on the ballot.  If that option was available, I might just write in the name “Daffy Duck,” or “Porky Pig,” for at least one of the offices.  Hey, I might as well vote for someone that I could actually have for dinner—literally!

Now I know this blog will be obsolete very soon because November 5, 2013 is almost upon us.  Very soon, a few of these candidates will hold public office in Atlanta.  They will create laws about zoning and be responsible for formulating policies that determine the education of your children, our children.  God help us all!

So here is my suggestion.  I know a few people who make it a habit to call their elected officials on a regular basis, but too many of us do not make that effort.  We complain in every day conversations about something that needs fixing in city government, but soon we move on to another topic.  Yet, this is an opportunity to give them tit-for-tat.  Call these representatives when there is a street sign pointing the wrong way.  Call them to complain about a pothole in the street.  Hell, call them if you have got a hangnail and you just want to complain about how it stings every time you put your hand in dishwater.  They have no qualms about calling you with pre-recorded asinine messages that repeat the same horse manure; and worse, they do not seem to know or care how annoying it is.  Return the favor and maybe some of them will do the jobs our tax money pays them to do!

Peace!

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

What I Learned About Creativity from My Worst Subject

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

May in the Park, No. 24
Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I do not typically write about Education per se.  Two of my favorite bloggers ModernDayChris and Matt Wilson of Everything Needs to Change do the best writing about the subject, particularly the education of children in our public school systems from Kindergarten to 12th Grade.  This essay is not so much a critique as it is a reminder about something often forgotten when conversations and analyses take place about what is wrong or right or that needs fixing in American education overall.

First, let us be honest.  Not all American public education is flawed; it is often unequal based on race and/or socioeconomic factors.  It can also suffer from certain regional economic problems, which are beyond the scope of this essay.  The quality of American higher education runs the gamut from mediocre to the best in the world.  Yet, there are certain actions and habits that can help any student regardless of the quality of that education.  Of course, the best education nurtures these habits.  So here goes…

For the record, I was possibly the world’s worst Biology student.  After routinely making grades of “A” in subjects like History and English, I nearly flunked Biology in high school.  I will not bore you with the stories about my nausea and headaches when I had to dissect some dead animal preserved in formaldehyde—That is a whole other essay by itself.  When I had to take Biology in college, I determined that I needed to not only study, but also come up with some creative ways to study.  After getting a lousy two out of twenty identifications correct on a Biology Lab Practical Exam, I arranged a meeting with my professor.  (For those of you who have forgotten what a lab practical is, it is simply a test where you identify bacteria, amoebas, and other items physically located in a biology lab, many of which are under a microscope.)

My professor informed me that he typically set up everything in the lab on Saturdays.  I asked if I could come by on Saturdays.  He said that I could, and that I could stay as long as I wished so that I could examine and take notes about all of the items in the lab.  Off to campus on Saturday I went carrying my notebooks and an assortment of colored markers so that I could literally draw what I was examining so that I could study it at home, over and over again.  On nearly ten consecutive Saturdays, I also got a chance to talk at length with my Biology professor.

I joked with him that a historian’s brain dealt with a lot, and it did not have much room for Biology.  My professor admitted that he had never been a good student of History.  We both took note of the fact that History typically tells a story; and it also typically argues a thesis, which is why you can find so many different History books about the same event that argue entirely different positions about why that event happened.  This is why Law students typically have to have some academic background in History—History teaches you to see more than one side of an argument.  Biology, however, is another matter.  That amoeba cell that you just examined under that microscope is going to remain an amoeba cell.  You can either recognize it or you cannot!

During these Saturday sessions, I had the opportunity to ask my professor numerous questions about everything in that lab.  I swiftly took notes of everything he said.  When both he and I were taking breaks from the subject matter, we discussed History, Politics, Performance Arts, and whatever was happening in the news.  He quickly discovered that while I would never be a great biologist, I was a good student in History, and a burgeoning intellectual.  So, what is my point?

The point here is I listen to students and some educators talk about subjects they describe as not preparing students for the kind of work they will be doing as adults.  “Why do I have to take Biology if I am never going to use it?”  That is a fair question.  Yet, my experience with taking a subject I might not have to use or need to use taught me several important lessons about the intrinsic value of a good education beyond the mere mastery of any particular subject matter.

First, when I made a solid “B” as my final grade for Biology, I knew I had earned it.  No one—and I certainly did not—really wants to go back to school on Saturdays.  I went back and stayed long hours and it paid off.  Second, because I was often the only student in the lab on those Saturdays I was free to speak with my professor without interruption.  Technically, I got free tutoring lessons simply by showing up and availing myself of his expertise.  Third, my professor witnessed me making an extra effort in a difficult subject.  While professors do not grade for “effort” (nor should they), it does not hurt for an instructor to see a student put in extra time in order to master a difficult subject.  Fourth, I learned that I could conquer that which was difficult.

I also finally understood lessons that my mom and my uncle, both educators, often emphasized throughout my childhood and adolescence:  Education is as much about endurance as it is anything else.  And as my mom often stated: You cannot expect a student to become the next Einstein if he or she cannot get along with other students (teamwork) and also willingly and creatively work on difficult subject matter.  Importantly, both Mom and my uncle insisted that one of the keys to a good education was the “social” skill of learning how to navigate difficulties and put in extra time without resorting to short cuts or cheating or other forms of skulduggery.  Tackling a subject that one is not good at forces a certain level of creativity—that is creativity often born of unorthodox or unconventional ways to retain and master the subject matter, and pass the class.

It is right about now that the folks that know me well would assume that I would go into one of my soapbox sessions about the necessity of arts education in schools, and how the arts make students more creative and help with spatial reasoning and a host of other skills, including enhanced skills in Mathematics and Sciences.  Well, I am not going to do that, exactly.

Exposure to the arts certainly enriches and develops creativity; and I have never met an artist that was not creative at something.  Yet, creativity is not the exclusive domain of the arts or artists.  I have met many individuals who did not have an artistic bone in their bodies, but who were highly creative people.  If students are to develop into productive individuals who can think their way through and out of complex problems, regardless of academic discipline, then education needs to not only expose students to the arts, but it should also advocate that creativity—artistic or otherwise—is an essential skill for all academic disciplines.  Furthermore, arts education advocacy need not exist on, nor should it lay sole claim to, some creative island minus its other academic counterparts.  Perhaps, this is where the real debate about education needs to begin.  More to come later…

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.